Obama to push Iran deal, engagement in university speech

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 05, 2015 9:42 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama plans to promote the Iran nuclear agreement as the best option for stability in the Middle East in a foreign policy speech on Wednesday in which he will warn that scuttling the deal would be a historic mistake.

The Democratic president's speech at American University in Washington comes amid a furious lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to secure the support of enough lawmakers to ensure the deal, which was reached July 14 between Iran and six world powers, will survive.

Opponents of the agreement, including powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups that believe it would threaten the Jewish state, have been trying to persuade lawmakers to reject it.

Congress has until Sept. 17 to accept or reject the Iran pact, which the White House considers one of the major foreign policy initiatives of the Obama presidency.

"The president will frame the congressional decision about whether to block the implementation of a deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as the most consequential foreign policy debate since the decision to go to war in Iraq," a White House official said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

The deal would lift some of the punishing economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for a verification program aimed at restricting Iran's nuclear activities.

Obama will say "it would be a historic mistake to squander this opportunity - removing constraints on the Iranian program, unraveling the sanctions regime, and damaging American credibility," the White House official said.

Wednesday's address has drawn parallels to a 1963 commencement speech by President John F. Kennedy at American University, where he advocated a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in the months after the Cuban missile crisis.

"I think what's appropriate about that comparison is President Kennedy more than 50 years ago entered into a diplomatic agreement with an adversary of the United States that did succeed in advancing the national interests of the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)